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After rebuilding, Cougars prepared to win

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By Mike Farner

 SHEPHERDSVILLE – Following a rebuilding season that saw the team win just ten games, the Bullitt Central Cougars look to parlay a wealth of experience into another successful season this winter.

     It was just two years ago that coach Joe Pat Lee led the Cougars to a 21-9 record. That team lost all five starters, leading to the rebuilding season a year ago.

     Now, the Cougars return four starters and while the maroon and gray might be flying under the radar to some degree, Lee has high expectations for this group.

     “As a coaching staff, we are excited about this group of kids,” the veteran coach said recently. “It’s one of the most fun groups I’ve been around.

     “They work hard in practice every day,” Lee added. “You don’t have to worry about effort. They go after it every day which makes them better.”

     This will be one of the bigger and stronger Bullitt Central teams inside with 6-3 Brett Bourland and 6-5 Zach Martin. Lee hopes to open up space inside for Bourland with a strong outside shooting season from senior guard Zach Humphrey who finished last year strong.

     “We do have a great deal of experience from last year,” Lee pointed out. “We return our two leading scorers and leading rebounder.

     “As far as our district and region, I don’t think many people expect much from us,” the coach added. “I think some people think we’re fourth or fifth in the district. But I like flying under the radar.”

     The Cougars showed a lot of offensive firepower in the first scrimmage of the season, a workout against Atherton.

     “Brett had 26 points and 15 rebounds and Zach Humphrey had 16 points with five threes,” Lee said. “The offense was really good. We just learned that we need to shore things up on defense.”

     Even with all of the team’s experience, the success of the season might come down to how the two youngest varsity players contribute. Most of the point guard duties will fall to sophomores Chase Craddock and Cameron Dukes.

     Dukes got more playing time last season with the varsity as Craddock took a little longer to get to the speed of high school basketball. He also physically matured to the point where he is further along at this point than his older brother, Caleb, who was the team’s point guard for four years up through that successful 21-9 team two years ago.

     “He’s our best pure point guard,” Lee said. “He sees the floor well and distributes it well. He’s grown up and matured a lot.”

     Dukes was the starting quarterback for the football team during the fall and so was late joining the basketball team. Dukes also pitched for the Bullitt Central varsity baseball team last spring.

     Bullitt Central will pretty much use a point guard with two wings and then two inside players. Dukes will see some time on the wing, but at the start of the season, Humphrey and senior Jacob Wampler will be the starters at those positions.

     “Humphrey is our best shooters and our best scorer off the dribble,” Lee said. “He has range to 25-feet. He has the green light to let it go. He averaged 10 points a game last year and had a phenomenial summer.

     “Jacob is more of a slasher and will get in the lane,” the coach added. “He played point for us last year and he could play some there this year also.”

     Inside, Bourland and Martin will take up a lot of space. Bourland will be looked to for both scoring and rebounding. Martin will play a key role on defense and with his rebounding.

     “Zach has bought into his role of playing defense and rebounding,” Lee pointed out. “He had four points and ten rebounds in the scrimmage. That is exactly what we need from him.”

     Bourland had his ups and downs as a junior, but Lee expects big things from him this winter.

     “He lost 30 pounds from last year so he is in better shape,” the coach noted. “He is still a little under the radar, but you would be hard-pressed to find an inside player as skilled around the basket. He is a double-double every night and I’m not talking about 12 and 10. I’m talking about 25 to 30 points and 15 rebounds.

     “Brett has worked really hard in getting his motor to go the whole game,” Lee pointed out. “He can get a rebound and go the length of the floor and step out and take the three. He was a guard growing up so he can handle the ball. He is tough to stop.”

     Depth in the post will come from juniors Roy Crable, Colin Trent and Cole Kraesig. Each of those players is at least 6-2.

     Bullitt Central has never reached a Sixth Region Tournament, but this could be their best chance to sit atop the 23rd District.

     “That’s the million dollar question,” Lee said when asked if his team could shine in February and March. “By the end of the February we have the pieces to win a district championship. We can compete with any team in the region except maybe one or two.

     “We can do that,” the coach added of being a top team. “We are under the radar right now. We’ll be ranked low to start, but we will surprise people. I think we can be really good.”

     The Cougars will open the season on Tuesday when they travel to Thomas Nelson for a girl/boy doubleheader. The Cougars will be at home for the first time on Friday when they take on Bethlehem. The next week will have the Cougars playing at both Southern and North Bullitt.